The design of Iran's indigenous Shafaq fighter/light combat aircraft as it appeared around 2006. The design has now been revised, but the programme is still nowhere near the prototype stage. Credit: R Johnson
Despite Iran moving its indigenous fighter/light combat aircraft programme to a new design house, indications emanating from the country's latest Kish Island air show suggest nothing will take to the skies anytime soon.
Since 2001 Iran's indigenous Shafaq programme has been in what seemed an endless process of design concept development. At Iran's biennial Iran-Kish Air Show the Shafaq was displayed several times as a project being run out of the Malek-Ashtar University of Technology in Tehran. Meanwhile, Russian news sources had reported in the early 2000s that the Shafaq was being developed as part of a co-operative effort involving Mikoyan Design Bureau and other major entities of the Russian aerospace industry.
Malek-Ashtar officials stated at the 2005 Kish expo that the programme "was begun in Iran and will be completed in Iran" and that the aircraft existed at that point as a full-scale mock-up but had not progressed to the prototype construction phase. It continued to appear at later Kish Island shows, sometimes only in photographs, but almost never was there any acknowledgement of the Russian role in the programme.
However, at this year's show held on Kish Island from 18-21 November, the aircraft was shown once again only in photographs, although IHS Jane's has discovered the programme has now been relocated out of Malek-Ashtar and handed over to the Iran Aviation Industries Organisation (AIO) Research Centre. The centre, explained two of the specialists with the programme, functions like an advanced design division and prototype construction entity that would eventually hand a design over to a manufacturing unit for series production once the design is fully completed and validated.
"Malek-Ashtar is still primarily an academic institution," explained one of the AIO Research Centre representatives, "so it was time for this programme to be transitioned to a mainstream entity within Iran's official aerospace industrial structure." In the process the Shafaq programme has also been renamed 'Borhan', which appears to have been partially motivated by the changes that the research centre has made to the original Shafaq design.
The research centre personnel said the refinement of the design as it was renamed the Borhan involved several changes from the design originally put forward in 1993 at the Dubai Air Show by an organisation calling itself the Moukhamedov Experimental Design Bureau. AIO Research Centre specialists stated that the head of the organisation had since died, but that the revised design, sometimes called by its Russian name 'Integral', has continued to be refined. In contrast to previous presentations of the aircraft, AIO representatives admitted that a Russian design team had been involved in the early stages of the programme, but that's all that remains of that Russian role today is some assistance on wind tunnel validations of the modified design.
The most prominent of the modifications made in the Borhan design is the replacement of the aircraft's twin, outwardly canted vertical tail section configuration with a single tail. Also, the wing root and the leading and trailing edges of the wing have been re-designed to perform independent aerodynamic functions; the original Shafaq design employed single, unbroken wing root extensions that contiguously bridged the leading and trailing edges of the wing to the fuselage with a set of four circular arcs that appeared structurally to be part of the wingbox section of the aircraft.
The aircraft still retains the Russian-made Zvezda K-36D ejection seat and would most likely be fitted with either a single or twin-engine installation of the same NPO Klimov RD-33 that powers the Mikoyan MiG-29. Designers have made no decisions on this issue yet as they are still evaluating one- versus two-engine configurations and thrust/performance requirements.
Two engines may be needed for this aircraft for the reason that the Borhan remains an aircraft that involves very little use of composite materials and some of the onboard systems, such as the ejection seat, are much heavier than their Western equivalents. The Borhan would thus in all likelihood end up weighing more than other aircraft of its type.
The AIO Research Centre designers' admission that there is still no prototype of the Borhan, only a mock-up, makes it obvious that the programme is now in need of either an internal Iranian or export customer to take it up to ready-for-production status.
The aircraft's size and layout puts it in the same class as the Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 or the Aeromacchi M-346 trainer/light attack aircraft, both of which are well-established and mature programmes, putting the Borhan into an already-competitive market with very few, if any, customers willing to take the risk on an untested design.
It thus seems to be a dead programme with no military potential for the Iranian armed forces, which is probably why the Iranian government allowed it to be shown at Kish.
Iranian fighter programme remains on drawing board - IHS Jane's 360